Poland's Vietnamese: A tough transition but they're surviving
25.4.2008 - Danuta Isler
Thousands of Vietnamese, repressed in their home country, often try their
luck abroad. For those who settle in Poland it can be a tough transition.
They have to work hard simply to survive, and to grasp a difficult
language. Estimates vary but most say around forty to fifty thousand
Vietnamese currently live in Poland, many of them illegally, and many of
them with children. So what is their life like and how do Poles feel about
the Vietnames in their midst?
Primary School no 25 in Warsaw is one of those in Poland’s capital that
cater to an increasing immigrant community living in this country. It is
located at Grzybowska street, in an area with a vast Vietnamese minority.
All in all, there are 3500 children with foreign passports in Poland,
including 800 in Warsaw. Many of them are Vietnamese who go to Polish
schools and try to behave the same way their Polish peers do. Mila is one
"Hello, my name is Trami but teachers and my friends call me Mila. I
am 12 years old and I was born in Poland. Why did my parents come to
Poland? There is poverty in Vietnam and they had to come to Poland to make
The Vietnamese first appeared in Poland in large numbers after WWII.
According to rough estimates, there are currently forty to fifty thousand
of them living in this country. The majority of the estimated 20 thousand
Vietnamese in the capital are illegal aliens. This unregulated status is
the reason for the invisible nature of this community. Many, just like
Mila's parents work in trade, selling clothes. Others work in bars or
restaurants offering Vietnamese cuisine. They speak limited Polish and work
hard to make ends meet. Just like the parents of 27-year-old Dang Thu Huong
who came here 17 years ago and now have their own stand in Wolka Kosowska,
a big shopping center 20 km from Warsaw which is home to a big group of
Vietnamese merchants. Dang, now a student of medical school in Warsaw often
volunteers as an interpreter at the Emigrants' Center here. She says what
draws Vietnamese to this country is an accepting society and freedom to
live the way they chose to.
"I think Poles are a very tolerant society because the majority of
Vietnamese here haven't got legal status so thanks to Poles we can exist
here. For example, we can rent flats and children can go to school. If
somebody is ill and needs help in hospital and is not rich doctors will
help those people. Vietnam is a communist country and because of this there
is poverty and they try to find a country where they can work, they can do
something and where they can feel free".
The Vietnamese in Poland are a well organised community, publish a number
of newspapers, and have their own few associations. Father Edward Osiecki,
a Polish missionary priest runs a centre for the community of Vietnamese
Catholics in Warsaw. He has been working with them for many years assisting
them in legal matters as well as housing and employment.
"If we think about the group of Vietnamese, a significant number of
them do not have documents. Anyhow, they survive in Poland and they
function. It means that Polish community supports them. They make very
significant steps towards integration not knowing the language. They have
houses, they send their children to schools. Generally they manage, even
not having documents and after a while I see that they become confident in
what they do and bring their contribution to the society very well".
Most of the children from primary school no 25 were born in Poland but
many live in split families with some members still in Vietnam awaiting
their chance to join the family in Poland. Ewa Perkowska, an English
teacher from the school confirms that the Vietnamese are good students.
"There aren't any problems with assimilation, they have Polish names
and they play with Polish children. Those Vietnamese students do their
homework, they are very willing to answer questions during lessons. They
are usually the best in their classes. Maybe they are more disciplined at
home, maybe their parents tell them to learn more because they have to be
better, they are foreigners in Poland".
Although the majority of Poles are aware of a big Vietnamese community
living here in recent years several social campaigns have been launched in
order to spread awareness of ethnic minorities. One of them held under the
slogan “Poland is diverse” was prepared by ‘Proxenia’ the
Association for the Integration and Protection of Refugees in Poland and
the Polish Red Cross. Its organizers stress the fact that although now
Poland is basically a nation of one race, culture, language and religion,
in past decades it was home to various ethnic groups which coexisted